Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Worth the Risk?

One of my speaker friends made me laugh recently.  She said, “Why do I keep doing something that makes me feel like I’m going to throw up on a regular basis?  I’d love to work 9-5 making widgets!”

Why indeed?!

Most of the time I recognize this speaker calling as the rich blessing that it is, but occasionally I want to echo my friend who was joking in a moment of frustration.

For me, the biggest challenge is that I take a risk every time I take the stage to speak.  I love the feeling of connecting with the audience and sharing my Magnificent Obsession.  Once in a while, though, I don’t feel the connection.  I know that even though I’ve prayed and prepared that I’m flat, average, or even worse, a flop.

A couple of weekends ago, my son, who is a musician, had a big solo at the beginning of a concert.  He practiced and practiced at home until the whole family was familiar with every note.  All the group practices went well, and he even received praise from the conductor.  At the performance, however, all did not go well, and he left the stage deflated and discouraged.

My heart broke with his, but I got to share that I’ve felt the same way before.  The hardest part is feeling like you’ve not only failed but failed in front of EVERYONE.  No matter how many times you’ve done well, that one failure lcan loom larger than everything else.  Other people might get to have their bad days in offices alone, but speakers have our bad days in front of an audience!

So why do we do it?

Because the One who calls us is worthy.  That truth alone has to fuel our passion, our discipline, and our work.  If we speak only for the connection with an audience…if we speak only for the applause…if we speak only to wear a cute outfit…if we speak only for the rush of being up front and of approval…then the failures will crush us, and we might as well go make widgets.

But if we speak for the One who fills our hearts and our mouths, then every risk is worth it.  He’s the One who will help us perservere.  When we experience a speaking event that we feel was a failure, He’ll gently pick us up, encourage our hearts and set us on another stage on another day.

If you’re not convinced yet that the risk is work it, check out these posts at Seth Godin’s blog and Lysa TerKeurst’s blog.  (Even if you ARE convinced, they’re worth a read!)

Have you ever felt like you failed as a speaker?  What helped you recover?


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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Learning from Evaluating

I am the only “music appreciator”(ie. loves music but doesn’t have much talent) amongst a family of true musicians.  I love to sing in the choir, but all the men around me here can both give a critique a beautiful performance.

There’s an upside and a downside.  The upside is that they get excited about an EXCELLENT musical performance.  The downside is that it’s hard to turn off your critique-er and just enjoyone that might be less than outstanding.  I’m finding the same thing about speaking, but I’m trying to use my desire to learn as a way to put my critique-er to work for me.

I have a core belief that I can learn something from everyone, so I try to start there.  But I get really jazzed about hearing a great message  from behind a pulpit, through a computer screen or from a debate stage.  As I hone my speaking skills and share with others things that I’ve learned, I’m more and more interested in what makes a great message.  Critiquing messages is one way to learn to make my own messages better.

I’ve suggested free podcasts in the past as a way to listen to messages.  Videos of messages allow us to incorporate the visual delivery into our critique, and there’s a wealth of those online too.  TED is an organization that has speakers do short speeches on a variety of messages. (Jane Fonda’s recent message on aging well is one I really enjoyed.)

Rachel Olsen uses these short TED speeches as a vehicle of study for her communications students at UNC-Wilmington.  The group watches, analyses and discusses the speeches in order to strengthen their own.

Here are some things to look for if you try this on your own:

  • How does the speaker open?  Did it catch your attention immediately?
  • Is the content of the message relevant? cohesive? sequenced logically?
  • How does the speaker use her voice?  Is there volume variance?  Is the pitch pleasant?
  • How are notes used?  Not used?  Does it seem to affect the speaker’s connection with the audience?
  • What is the speaker doing with her body?  Is is distracting?  Does it add meaning and emphasis?
  • Is the end abrupt or a solid period on the message?  (Rachel’s class noticed that with a great ending, the audience knows to burst into applause.  Interesting.  Difficult!)

Try critiquing some of these videos and make notes of how you want to improve your next message.  Can you think of a message that you’ve loved?  What made it great?   I’d love to hear some of your important observations!

The questions above reflect just a few of the areas that Karen and I use as we listen to our clients’ messages for the Speaker Evaluation Service.  We’d love to hear one of your messages!  For $195, you will receive both written and oral  feedback on one of your messages.  I know it sounds a little scary, but both Karen and I are born encouragers.  We don’t have a Simon Cowell bone in our bodies!  We look for ways to encourage you on your strengths as well as offering constructive suggestions on how to further sharpen your message.  If you are interested or would like to ask some questions about this service or any other that we offer, please fill out the form on the Request Informtion tab.  I’ll be in touch within 24 hours to set up a free consultation call.


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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Always a Learner

As speakers, we stand in a strange place.  I remember the first event I did outside of my own church.  It was a retreat, and I met the group at a hotel to check in and begin the weekend.  Women milled around with suitcases, chatting with each other as they waited.  The room was charged with energy and excitement.

The leader and organizer of the event stayed with me and introduced me to women as they moved our way, and I had my first experience with unearned honor.  When I was introduced as the speaker, there was a sudden shift in the casual conversation.  I was aware of being treated as special and respected, someone set apart.  It was a very uncomfortable feeling for me.  I was still just Amy.  Nothing had changed in me, but I was treated differently because of my title.

You probably know exactly what I’m talking about.  In our culture of celebrity, I’m not “a name”, but about mid-way through She Speaks every year, I have this thought.  “I just need to go home and wash boys’ underwear.”  It’s a reminder to myself that I’m really a wife and mom–nobody any more special than all the other women in the room!

Maintaining humility and a right perspective of ourselves is key to powerful ministry.  One way to keep on track is to always consider ourselves learners.  Although we stand to teach, we still need to see ourselves primarily as needing to be taught.  Above all, we need to be taught from God’s Word, but we can also maintain humility by focusing on improving our speaking.

I don’t ever want to decided that “tada!”, I’m now a professional speaker.  I always want to work to communicate Jesus more effectively.

One of my Next Step clients was my teacher last week.  She sent me a link to a website that was new to me, and I want to share it with you.  Truthfully, I hesitated, because it’s a service similar to Next Step.  In the end, though, it is too rich a resource not to share, and I decided God is big enough to send the clients that he has for us!

Click here to visit The Eloquent Woman.  I watched this speech by Viola Davis of  The Help, subscribed to the blog, and I can’t wait to delve into the Index of Famous Women’s Speeches.  Always a learner.  That’s me!


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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Most Amazing Partnership

It’s time to answer another reader’s question.  Edwina, thank you for waiting so patiently!  Here’s Edwina’s question,

“Perhaps you’ve done a blog about how to get speaking engagements and I didn’t see the blog. If you haven’t, I would really appreciate a blog (or series of blogs) on how to get speaking engagements. I truly believe I have a message God wants me to share but I don’t know how to obtain speaking engagements. Do I just wait for God or is there something I can be doing now?”

I’m so glad for the opportunity to introduce anyone new to the blog to one of our most amazing resources.  Tracie Miles, my friend and Proverbs 31 Ministries sister, wrote a fabulous series on Marketing Your Message.  Clicking on the series title will take you right to it.  Don’t miss out on it while it’s still free, because I keep telling Tracie to publish it as an ebook.  It’s that good!

I want to answer the second part of your question by telling you my story.  For me, I believed I heard God’s call to speak long before I ever spoke.  I say “I believed”, because I wasn’t completely sure until God started opening doors for me to speak. 

For about 2 years, each event came about in surprising and unrelated ways.  While I was sure that I needed word of mouth, God was sure that he needed to give His control freak daughter a lesson in trusting the work of His hand.  I’m so grateful for that time period.  Not only did I learn to trust God with the ministry He gave me, but I gained confidence from having my calling so sweetly confirmed.  He also gave me opportunities that allowed me to grow slowly.  I’m thankful for no trials by fire early on!

On the other hand, God’s calling always demands leaps of faith that usually involve work on our part.  Think of the Israelites trip into the Promised Land.  Although God had given the land to them, they had to cross the Jordan and fight seemingly unbeatable enemies.  Speakers are like that.  We have the most amazing partnership with God.  He promises to fill our mouths (Psalm 81:10), but we have to commit to open it for His glory (Col. 3: 17, 23-24).

Lysa TerKeurst says it this way, “I do all that I can do and trust God to do what only He can do.”  Love that!

Keep the questions coming, friends!  We’ll answer at least one a month.  Coming soon:  Glynnis Whitwer shares organizational tips for speakers.


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